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What to Make of the New Medical School and the Tuition Freeze

 

Thursday was a big day for The University of Texas at Austin. The UT System Board of Regents met and made some decisions that will have lasting effects on our alma mater, the value of our degrees, and the state of Texas.

In short, the regents approved funding to go toward building a medical school in Austin. They also froze undergraduate tuition for in-state students. Every other UT System institution that asked to raise in-state undergrad tuition got to raise it. Only UT-Austin did not.

I’d like to draw your attention to President Powers’ thoughtful and measured response to their decisions. Please read it.

I also urge you to educate yourself on how the University is funded. The University’s ability to deliver excellence depends on a sustainable funding model. Short-term funding, while nice, won’t help UT achieve its mission of becoming the top public teaching and research university in the country.

Here is President Powers’ reaction:

Regents act on medical school funding and UT Austin tuition

As you may have now heard, today the UT Board of Regents took actions that will have profound effects on our university.

The Board voted to allocate $25 million recurring, with an additional $5 million for eight years, to fund a medical school in Austin. This allocation — along with a pending $250 million commitment from the Seton Healthcare Family for a new teaching hospital — moves us closer than ever to bringing a medical school to UT Austin. The founding of a medical school at UT would be an enormous event in the life of the University, would offer dramatic new opportunities for our students and our faculty, and would advance health care in Central Texas.

Nevertheless, I’m disappointed to report that the Board declined to adopt our tuition recommendation. Instead it voted to freeze undergraduate tuition at its current level for Texas residents at UT Austin for the next two years. It did allocate $6.6 million of non-recurring money from the Available University Fund (the endowment from the West Texas oil lands) for those same two years. It adopted our request for a 3.6 percent increase for graduate students but declined to adopt it for the second year. Tuition for out-of-state undergraduates will increase by 2.1 percent for two years rather than 3.6 percent as we requested. The tuition freeze was not applied to any other UT System school.

While many students naturally will welcome the news of a tuition freeze, we should understand the serious consequences for UT Austin and for the ability of Texans to benefit from strong public universities.

Our university is supported financially by four pillars: state funding, tuition, research grants, and philanthropy. State support in constant dollars per UT student has fallen for more than a quarter century. With a multi-year tuition freeze, the second pillar of our funding structure effectively will be cut each year by the rate of inflation. While we appreciate the AUF allocation, it will provide less than half of the increase we had planned for. Moreover, a one-time allocation, however much it might mitigate short-term problems, cannot substitute for stable, recurring, sustainable funding needed to support long-term efforts aimed at student success.

This action inevitably will affect our ability to teach our students and make new discoveries. Our tuition proposal, which was unanimously recommended by the students on UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, was dedicated to fund initiatives to enhance student success, improve four-year graduation rates, and increase scholarships.

As we prepare for next year’s budget, I will work with faculty, students, staff, and our administrative leadership to address how we use our resources to protect the quality of education here at UT.

The University of Texas has pursued excellence and has steadily grown stronger for 129 years. I am committed to protecting the quality of a UT education for Texans, for our children, and for our grandchildren.

 
 
 

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